My years with four teenagers in the house were definitely the toughest of my life. My heart broke into a million pieces as I shared my kids' many pains during those wild and turbulent times.
It set me to praying — every day. I asked God to make those six teenage years golden years. I prayed that my kids would have godly hearts. I prayed for their sexual purity, for their ability to stand alone against peer pressure, for their self-images, for their desire to honor and obey us, for wisdom, for their friends and teammates and teachers and coaches and future mates. I prayed that the example of my life would be more consistently godly.
I made many mistakes with my kids, but I didn't quit. I tried to be diligent in doing what I thought was right, adjusting my tactics with each situation and each kid, and adjusting again when my methods didn't work.
In the process, I discovered some tips you might find useful. They're the kind of thing you might be tempted to forget in the heat of the parenting moment — the kind of thing that takes daily diligence.
1. Allow choices whenever possible. When we're rushed, or when our teens have disappointed us, it's easy to step in and make the decisions ourselves. But kids learn to make good choices ... by making choices. If good choices lead to pleasant results and poor choices produce painful consequences (which they often will if you don't "rescue" your teen), you'll probably find your son or daughter making more of the former than the latter.
2. Remember the power of saying, "No." It's part of a parent's job, so don't be timid! "Everybody" may be doing it, going to it, watching it, listening to it, drinking it and using it, but "In this home, we're not!" Don't just issue declarations, though; keep working on the relationship and explain the reasons behind the boundaries.
3. Follow through with appropriate consequences. If your teen comes home before curfew, praise her. If she ignores the limits you've set, withdraw an allowance or privilege (driving, phone use, going out at night, etc.). In the interest of fairness, let your teen know ahead of time what the limits and penalties are. For example, coming home 15 minutes late means coming home 15 minutes early next time. Write it down so no one forgets!
George Callahan is one dad who discovered the value of appropriate consequences. He and his daughter Miriam spent way too much time bashing heads — especially over getting the girl to school on time. Finally George decided to lay out what he was going to do: "The car is leaving for work at 7:30 a.m. If you're ready, I'll take you to school." If Miriam wasn't ready for school then, she had to find another way to get there.
George says, "It changed everything to just get out of the power struggle and say, 'We don't have to struggle. I simply present the consequences. Those aren't negotiable.'"
4. Re-evaluate your habits occasionally. Every so often, honestly assess where you are and how you're doing as a parent. Give yourself credit in the areas where you're doing well, and thank God for His help. In other areas, create a simple, step-by-step plan for improvement. Be firm with yourself, but not harsh.
5. Be consistent. Some parents find this the toughest task of all. But teens like to know where they stand and what's expected of them. When rules change and they get in trouble, they withdraw or lash out. Some families find it helps to draw up agreements, even in the small things, so there's no confusion about what's expected.
One teen boy said, "I've never had a set curfew. One night it will be 12 and the next night, even if I haven't done anything wrong, they'll be like, 'Oh, come home at 11 tonight.' It was very confusing."
6. Be patient. Give yourself — and your teen — a break. You're going through a time of upheaval and delicate wire-walking. Allow yourself some slack when it comes to measuring progress.
One wise parent puts it this way: "We had to take on a different perspective and realize that all things weren't going to be fixed or worked out. There would still be conflicts. That relationship didn't have to suddenly be right for us to be happy or content."
7. Keep up with your teen's world. Even in the midst of chaos — or because of it — you need to know about the culture that's pressuring and misinforming your son or daughter. Bookmark PluggedIn.com and The Center for Parent/Youth Understanding.
8. Enjoy your teen. Being a parent to a teen is not all hard work. There can be a lot of fun, too. Teens are daring, willing to play and explore life; they're often enthused, outrageous, crazy, insightful. They can be great companions when you're running a quick errand. Think of your teen as a new friend you'd really like to get to know. Try not to lose sight of that, even when you don't think you could love this kid one more second.
9. Meet apparent rejection with acceptance. "No matter how sullen they were, we hugged them," one parent said of her teens. "[We] said we loved them. It didn't matter if they responded. We did it anyway. Now there isn't a conversation that doesn't end with, 'Love you, Mom!' 'Love you, Dad!' They open their arms and hug freely."
10. Make encouragement a habit. One teen says his mother posts a new Bible verse every day on his mirror. This young man is honest enough to say he doesn't always read them. But he loves that his mom is consistent and caring enough to do it, even though she knows he doesn't always read them. Her diligence shouts love to him.